We could be wrong about everything. There are very few certainties in life and there are only a few I can think of.

1.) Right now I'm having an experience of some sort. This I know is an irrefutable fact but I do not know what is behind this experience. I could be a spirit as the religious claim, just my brain as scientists say, I could be having a hallucination, this could be a super high tech test from the future, or just anything we can think of. I don't believe in any of the stuff I just listed personally, but it certainly is a possibility if I'm honest about my own knowledge.

2.) The future is uncertain. This is also an irrefutable fact because there are always things that happen that we don't see coming. No one expects to have a car accident on a nice day, no one expects that they will become homeless due to an oncoming natural disaster, no one would expect to have their house broken into. These are things that different people all over the world experience everyday and even though this list is pretty extreme, I believe that we all face unexpected surprises no matter how big or small and good or bad.

3.)  I don't think this one is fully and applies to all situations, but I think that while conscious we are mostly in the past or future in our own minds. This is another one that I imagine is true for us. We are either thinking about something good or bad that happened in the past or anticipating something for the future. Even while at school, work, or wherever you can find yourself daydreaming or remembering something. We are always anticipating the future and contemplating the past. We are only in the present temporarily when we have to focus. This is the wonder and horror of human thinking. Animals don't seem to have the ability of having an urgent need to expand their own lifespan or foresee death as it's coming right at them. Most animals seem to just react because danger equals pain but I'm really not sure if they contemplate death or not.

The first 2 things on the list I think are irrefutable. I can't even imagine how I cannot be having an experience nor can I foresee the future. The 3rd one is touching more on how our minds are always constantly stimulating consciously and unconsciously (if you have a mind that functions properly) over things in the past and the coming future while spending very little time in the present.

I brought this subject up because I was thinking about my atheism. I'm not sure if many atheists feel worried over so many uncertainties like myself. I am a person who thinks a lot to myself and find myself always questioning things over and over again. I'm sure plenty of atheists feel comfy because they have a plan and are only bothered by uncertainty when situations get heavy. I don't really have any direction for my life because I don't know what I want to pursue and for what purpose. I really am a question mark in my own eyes and sometimes I just get scared from so much uncertainty that is accompanied with life. I just wanted to rant off about that and I doubt it's all that interesting but at least I feel a bit better.

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This is interesting, Ari.  I think you're a very thoughtful, intelligent, perceptive kid. 

"while conscious we are mostly in the past or future in our own minds."  - you're right, this is what they teach us in mindfulness.  This behaviour of the mind gets to be fucking tiresome and disturbs our internal tranquility.  The other thing that disturbs our tranquility is the emotions.  We can find escape from both by temporarily focusing on something in the present moment.  This weakens the iron grip they naturally have on us.  At the same time, they're there for a reason, which is why we need to observe and acknowledge them: so that they can do their job of alerting us to something. 

"I don't really have any direction for my life because I don't know what I want to pursue and for what purpose."  - you have to remember that uncertainty doesn't matter too much: you don't die of it.  You stay alive and then become certain again.  It's good that you say you are uncertain: that's better than pretending to be certain when you aren't. 

What's this experience you're having?  Maybe you're going loopy.  That's OK too. 

The future is uncertain.  That's why every day has to be lived for what it is. 

"are only bothered by uncertainty when situations get heavy."  - I think the thing to do is admit you don't know anything and then gather information. 

"We are only in the present temporarily when we have to focus."

That's a very Buddhist thought. In fact, the purpose of meditation is to train the mind to focus on the present moment and let go of everything that isn't happening now.

"I don't really have any direction for my life because I don't know what I want to pursue and for what purpose."

I felt the same way when I was your age. It's one of the reasons I've always considered the argument that religion gives purpose and meaning to be ridiculous. I was heavily enmeshed in religion, yet my life had no over arching purpose or meaning, but that's a different discussion altogether. Give it time. You're still young. You'll figure it out. In the mean time, my advice is to pick a direction and start walking. At the very least, you'll figure out which way you don't want your life to go. I did that. It was when I was working two jobs, one at a desk and one in a kitchen, that I realized that I really needed to head back to school, and slowly I started to fill in all the blanks about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. Even now as life goes on, my plans keep changing.

That's how life is. It's full of uncertainty. We just have to do the best we can with what we have. If I never made any decisions without being certain of the outcome, then I'd never make any decisions. Some events are beyond my control to alter. So what's the point in worrying about them? It's a waste of time and energy in a direction that's certain to be unproductive. It's better to focus my energy on something I can do rather than something I can't. If something goes wrong, I've got a handful of backup plans to see me though for the necessities. In the end, I'm personally confident in my abilities to fight my way through or weasel my way out of whatever life can through at me. I wasn't always. It's taken about a good 8 years to get to that level of confidence, and it was all experience that got me to where I am.

You'll get there and you'll look back and see how far you've come, but you've got to keep moving. No one gets anywhere by sitting still.

I agree with what Mr Hawk says, but I contend that there's a time for sitting still and a time for action. 

"I'm not sure if many atheists feel worried over so many uncertainties like myself."

For me, it's about being ok with the unknown. Religion can be seen as institutional fear mongering, which can be difficult to overcome (like any other irrational fear).

What happens after you die may be the #1 fear pumped up by religion.

To focus on the heading of your post "How Do We Know What We Know Is Right?"

Try this: When I'm not sure how I feel about something, I use the following method. You take your mind completely off of situation ABC for a while. When your thoughts first return to situation ABC, check your gut right away. I believe the emotions that come to you later on will throw you off the path to embracing how you feel about these things.

Example: I was playing in this band the Mercenes for a while. Things were ok, but it wasn't working on every level for me either. One fine Sunday afternoon before practice, I realized that I really, really didn't want to go rehearse with these people. The point is that I really felt certain right away. Subsequent thoughts about my feelings were watered down. When my returned to the subject, my gut feeling was unmistakable. Maybe you're like me in that you might overthink things.

I quit the band almost right away, took up with a new band Kid Bonney that was much more exciting, satisfying and successful to me personally. Others could make very strong cases that I should have stuck it out with the Mercenes - good people, respectable repertoire, regular gigs, decent crowds, ok money. Kid Bonney rocked harder, which is really what I was missing, what I felt I needed  - I was really psyched about the change and remained that way in my new band.

Your feelings really matter - they are as important as anyone else's, and you are the world's leading expert on you.

As for hallucinations, you may look into Dr. Rick Strassman's work on biological explanations for religious experiences. I forget exactly how old you are, but teen years usually see a spike in DMT which induces hallucinations/ spiritual experiences.

My favorite philosopher wrote an entire book on your subject It's name is On Certainty. I wrote my Master's Thesis on this subject. It covered Ludwig Wittgenstein and G.E. Moore's contributions to the field of epistemology. 

Moore argued that when it comes to things like "This is one hand; this is another" we can't be wrong. You can read Moore's argument on behalf of this as well as some of the objects and his rebuttals here.

Wittgenstein is one of the most important thinkers of the 20th Century. They say he founded three different schools of philosophy. In his last period, he wrote so much about epistemology that a couple of his students, one of whom had become the custodian of his academic writings and lectures, put together a book named On Certainty. If you're curious about this sort of thing, it will be a fascinating read. 

Let's take an example. If I think someone has flown across the Atlantic in the last week or so and he says he has not. Let's forget whether he has or not (the factual investigation) and go inside his head to eliminate the idea that he is lying to me. He, in his mind, knows he has not made that trip. Could he still be wrong? Of course, but you can't call this a mistake with a straight face. Such a "mistake" could only be accounted for by delusion, insanity, hypnotism, or mental decay of some sort.

On certainly takes the same as form of most of his middle- and late-period writing, which was also the form his Cambridge University lectures took...that of thinking out loud. Here are the last few paragraphs of the book:

674. There are, however, certain types of case in which I rightly say I cannot be making a mistake, and Moore has given a few examples of such cases.
I can enumerate various typical cases, but not give any common characteristic. (N.N. cannot be mistaken about his flown from America to England a few days ago. Only if he is mad can he take anything else to be possible.)

675. If someone believes that he has flown from America to England in the last few days, then, I believe, he cannot be making a mistake.
And just the same if someone says that he is at this moment sitting at a table and writing.

676. "But even if in such cases I can't be mistaken, isn't it possible that I am drugged?" If I am and if the drug has taken away my consciousness, then I am not now really talking and thinking. I cannot seriously suppose that I am at this moment dreaming. Someone who, dreaming, says "I am dreaming", even if he speaks audibly in doing so, is no more right than if he said in his dream "it is raining", while it was in fact raining. Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain.

For me, various kinds of certainty have increased with experience (or "age", as the cliche goes). Of course an over abundance of age often leads to an over abundance of various kinds of certainty ("get off my lawn!"), but so far, I think I'm fighting off that urge well enough.

Still, there really are certain kinds of certainty that prove valid and useful, for those of us who really care about observing an otherwise unpredictable world. To me, that's what life is about, and what science is about. Expriment! When I'm afraid to try something new out, sometimes I can convince myself that I should try the new experince out as just an experiment, not even serious, "real life", but an experience to benefit from just for its own sake. Pass or fail, I'll still learn something.

As for choosing substantive, personal goals, I like to remember two things. 1) Pursuing something that's personally very vital to me, I'm often in the moment, with no time to worry about other things of more questionable importance. 2) Eventually, moments of "stop and reflect, or smell the roses" cannot and should not be ignored, for the sake of mental and physical health. It's a balancing act. Get it right, and the benefits far outweigh the pitfalls.

All life has a purpose...Death.

I'm putting mine off until the last moment possible...humans have choice...I choose life.

Both Jean-Paul Sartre and Alan Watts said, in the context of wildly different philosophies, that only death gives life meaning. You are not defined as a person until your life is over. Sartre said that man is the only creature who defines himself through his acts because, he says, man is the only creature with free will. Watts says that a human life is like a painting to which paint can be added and it is only when one puts it on the wall in a frame (death) that it truly is finished and can be assessed. Eternal life would be life without meaning.

I don't mean to pick, but actually the purpose of death is life, because death is required for evolution to take process. But I'm with you on avoiding death in present times!


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